Shoot, Get Treasure, Repeat
By Mark Ravenhill
Directed by Nuala Donnelly
Brian Friel Theatre
Pedophilia, domestic abuse, the War on Terror and its representation in the media are challenging topics for any play to tackle but Mark Ravenhill mobilises them in his epic 16-play cycle, Shoot, Get Treasure, Repeat. Ravenhill’s plays, each twenty minutes long, began at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2007 under the collective heading Ravenhill for Breakfast. The entire cycle investigates the effects of war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and on our domestic everyday life. In this particular production, director Nuala Donnelly ambitiously chooses four of these short plays.
Before being allowed to enter the auditorium, each audience member had to present their official pass (provided with their play ticket) and were subject to a brief body frisk – setting the scene effectively. The first playlet, Yesterday an Incident Occurred, was performed behind a black gauze; a satirical critique of the media’s response to an unprovoked attack on an innocent man in a local shopping center. Three enthusiastic presenters (Lexi Clipp, Sarah McLaughlin and Michaela Duffy) encouraged their audience to submit their reactions ‘via e-mail, text, or through the web’ without actually taking much notice of what they had to say. The play made a conscious pun on the term ‘branding’ invoking the idea of media image (creating the right ‘brand) whilst inflicting a physical act of branding, as the audience were forced to select one of four unfortunate witnesses to maim – i.e. permanently scar. However, what started as a simple scene with a larger message, became exhausting and tedious when its length was nearly doubled.
War and Peace leads its audience to seven-year-old Alex’s (Lexi Clipp) bedroom where he is joined by his secret friend: the headless war soldier, played with just the right degree of menace by Neil Keenan. Both characters dialogue is interspersed with ‘Alex said’ and ‘he said’ – so that each character narrates themselves in this weird fairytale-like story. As the scene unfolds, it becomes apparent that the soldier wants to steal Alex’s head. War and Peace initially plays on fears of child abuse, moving through some potential innuendo-laden discussion – where the boy wants to feel the soldier’s gun in exchange for letting the soldier feel his head, and concludes with a speech from the soldier on gated communities and The War on Terror.
Love (But I Won’t Do That) is a negotiation between the middle-aged businesswoman Marion (Laura Smithers) and a young soldier (James Maguire). Following the death of Marion’s husband, the soldier has been billeted to protect Marion from invading forces but in return, the sexually-frustrated soldier desires Marion to become his personal porn star. While the graphically lewd language deployed is often funny, it is uncomfortably so since the objects of laughter involved are the sexual subjugation of women and the suppression of smaller countries.
Closing the cycle is The Odyssey, an ensemble piece involving the entire cast as British soldiers dressed in their military uniforms. As they pack their rucksacks and wait on their helicopter to return home, the soldiers declaim their values of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ and define ‘civilisation’ as being able to ‘get a cup of coffee and a pastry’ in the morning. The stage suddenly fills with white light suggesting a helicopter spotlight and the soldiers are instructed of last-minute changes to their deployment: they are being sent to a new conflict to bring ‘freedom and democracy’. As the final part of this jigsaw, The Odyssey doesn’t have the conclusion we’ve been waiting for and due to the episodic format of the play, there is no climactic ending to Shoot, Get Treasure, Repeat. The playlet’s are so sporadically chosen and positioned, that it’s hard to feel empathy for any of the characters. Using The War on Terror and the invasion of Iraq as its inspiration, Shoot, Get Treasure, Repeat has blazing topical relevance but this production walks on a tight rope with its representation of the armed forces. In War and Peace, the soldier is portrayed as a pedophile and in Love (But I Won’t Do That) the soldier is a sex-starved maniac constantly demanding oral sex off his victim. Ravenhill’s original play is curiously hit and miss: satirically sharp in some scenes but then heavy-handed when he grows more directly political but the main problem in this production is the lack of a coherent narrative between the four playlets and despite some superb performances from the ensemble cast, Donnelly’s dark production casts little light.